We all need a little girl time, and there’s nothing more gratifying when that girl time comes in the form of exploring new places and experiencing new things with your best friend who lives on the other side of the world.
After hanging out via emails, social media, Skype sessions and FaceTimes across oceans for more than 15 years, we decided it was time to plan a trip together and turn our get-together during her visit to India into a mini-adventure. Somewhere between our gossip sessions, ranting and ‘life happened’ conversations, we decided to do all this and more sitting in ‘the abode of clouds’ – Meghalaya.
And that’s how we embarked on our trip to Meghalaya, with Kolkata being our meeting point and Shillong our first destination in the much awaited ‘bestiemoon’ (yes someone has actually coined this word ???? ). This capital city is not the archetypal Indian capital city that comes to our mind. Although the city is bustling with people and traffic everywhere, there’s a rustic look, and cozy feel to it with glimpses of the colonial influence seen in the British architecture all over. As we had a long day changing flights and spending time in layovers, we decided to stay indoors and recreated our childhood sleepovers by bringing in the old vibes of a night in sweatpants, midnight munching and making some 3 am memories. That’s what two decades of friendship does to you!
Day 2 was about exploring Shillong and trying to understand the people and way of life before beginning our day trips to other parts of Meghalaya. Our day started with a visit to Ka Kshaid Lai Pateng Khohsiew, meaning three step waterfalls (famously known as the Elephant falls). As the name suggests, these three-tier falls skirted by lush greenery, flow over dark peninsular rocks. The crystal clear falls bathed in the golden rays of the sun are soothing to the eyes. The next thing in the agenda was to soak in the views of Shillong from its highest point, the Shillong Peak. The views of the city, the waterfalls, the pristine lakes, the surrounding Himalayan peaks and the plains of Bangladesh are stunning and plentiful from the peak.
Ka Kshaid Lai Pateng Khohsiew, the three-tiered falls
After this visual treat, we were looking forward to indulging ourselves in a long, sumptuous lunch at Ri Kynjai resort. With a view of the picturesque Umiam Lake, the resort is aptly named Ri Kynjai, which means Serenity by the Lake in Khasi. The dining room and bar, Sao Aiom (four seasons) is a restaurant which gives us the sneak peek into the kitchens of the northeastern communities. This charming restaurant provided a lavish dining experience and was the perfect place to rejuvenate while doing nothing but taking in the spectacular views.
Having had an early night the day before, the next day, we started early to Cherrapunji, the place that receives the world’s second highest share of rainfall. Hidden in the thick tropical forests of Cherrapunji are some astounding man-made natural marvels known as the living root bridges. These strong webs of tangled root bridges aren’t built, they are grown! The journey to Nongriat village to see the legendary double-decker living root bridge is a three km steep hike descending to 2,400 feet with 3,500 stairs to cover. It takes about two hours to reach the double-decker bridge after taking a detour to see the first root bridge called Long Root Bridge and then crossing two metal suspension bridges. Walking through these bridges was a daunting experience, especially for noob hiker like me! This is when your no.1 cheerleader, your best friend, comes in to push you just enough to ensure that you don’t miss out on this surreal experience. Sometimes we come across some phenomenal works of nature that leave us in awe. All the trouble feels worth it when you reflect on the views and serenity around you.
After the strenuous hike, all we wanted to do was unwind with some food and call it a day. And boy, did we find the perfect place! Nestled somewhere in the middle of this picturesque haven is Jiva Resort, with warm and welcoming staff. The resort is a visual delight with the waterfalls, the cute little bridges and awnings, and the landscaping around. The restaurant offered some lip-smacking food, which left our taste buds stunned. It all paired beautifully with a pot of tea and a friend who appreciates scrumptious food and breathtaking views as much as you do. It was a quiet ride back to Shillong with us napping to sleep off the weariness.
The next day, we set off to the Indo-Bangladesh border town of Dawki, famous for the Umngot River with its pristine clear waters where you can see the river bed with your naked eye during winters. Yes, all the beautiful pictures of the reflections of country boats on limpid water that you have seen on Pinterest were taken at the Umngot River in all probability. To our disappointment, the river was not that transparent in the end of March, when we were there. But the boat ride on the river was a soul-soothing experience, especially when you get to have a heart to heart in the middle of nowhere with no rush to leave, see the splendor and magnificence of this charming planet and capture the feeling of being there through an amateur’s lens with your best friend being your muse.
From there, we headed to Riwai village, where the other famed single living root bridge is situated before we made our way to the cleanest village in Asia – Mawlynnong. Getting to the living root bridge at Riwai was a breeze after the trek to the double-decker bridge the previous day. A quaint and peaceful village with bamboo dustbins at every corner of the road promoting ecotourism, Mawlynnong Village has a Sky Watch offering panoramic views of the neighboring Bangladeshi plains and the perfect ambiance to soak in the sounds of nature.
No girls’ trip or rather any trip is complete without venturing into the local markets and shops. That’s exactly how we decided to end our trip once we reached Shillong from Mawlynnong. The Bara Bazaar, where most of the shops are run by women vendors owing to the matrilineal system followed by the local Khasi tribe, and Police Bazaar are the go-to destinations for all the knick-knacks you would like to hoard. You can maneuver through the dizzying maze of shops to buy just about everything – clothes, meat, vegetables, spices, handicrafts, bamboo and cane objects, or any kind of souvenirs for the loved ones back home.
It was time to pack our bags and get back to the grind. It was also time to sit back and reminisce about the ton of incredible memories we made in this simple, beautiful and unspoiled state with its mesmeric hills, dense and green pastures, huge rivers and lakes, enigmatic caves, living root bridges and quaint villages with their traditions and cultures intact. Best friends indeed make great travel companions. Sometimes all you need to do is make those crazy midnight travel plans with your BFF, pack your bags, get away from the chaos and create some unforgettable memories to look back when you don’t get to meet each other for ages or when you just miss them.
Shillong is well connected to major cities through roads, air, and railways. There are to and fro flights between Kolkata and Umroi (35km from Shillong) on alternate days. Another convenient option is Guwahati (128km for Shillong with cabs and buses running between the cities) which is well connected with the rest of India. Guwahati also happens to be the nearest railway station.
Getting around in Meghalaya gets easier when you have a cab at your disposal. Shillong can be the point of stay as most of the beautiful places can be covered by making day trips from Shillong.